the heart of a dragon…

I love dragons. I would almost say that I’ve always loved them… and then I have to stop and think about that statement. Seriously, we don’t have dragons in real life, so it wasn’t a love developed in babyhood, like a child’s adoration for puppies and kittens. So, when and where did it develop?

Like most kids, I grew up watching Sleeping Beauty, and being terrified by Maleficent as a dragon. And watching Pete’s Dragon, didn’t everyone want Elliot for a friend? And since I was a bookworm, even as a child, didn’t I love reading the magnificently illustrated (no wonder it won the Caldecott Medal) St. George and the Dragon, by Margaret Hodges? But despite the wonder of the design behind all of these dragons, the only one I wanted to get to know was Elliot, and I knew full well he only came to help children that were in trouble. So, I was out of luck.

It was no accident that I finally discovered the books by Anne McCaffrey. We had five or six of the Dragonrider books on our shelf, by the time I knew what they were. But neither my mom or my older brother can remember quite when they happened across them. Dan probably brought one home from the library. My mom is not a big science fiction or fantasy reader, but she likes a good read. However it happened, she picked it up and fell in love with the characters and the wonderful stories.

So, when I reached the age of 12 or 13, Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon would have been on our shelves for a few years (Mom must’ve picked them up at a used book store). Also, Dragonsdawn and the Harper Trilogy.

The moment I opened Dragonflight, things changed for me. Here was a world, in danger of extinction, as the Red Star loomed on their horizon. The only ones standing in the way of this terrible fate were the remaining dragons and their riders, their numbers so diminished, they had only one queen egg remaining. If the dragons died out, there would be no one left to flame Thread from the skies.

But these weren’t just any dragons! These dragons, from the moment they broke through their shell, were joined mind-to-mind with their riders, whether male or female. A merging of minds so strong that life without the other would be impossible. Someone to always know and share your joys and griefs. Never to ever be alone again. And along with that, your own dragon to ride into the skies… when they were old enough to fly, of course.

You can see why my imagination was caught. Who hasn’t had one of those dreams about flying? So what could be better than the idea of flying on a dragon?

And eventually, though I didn’t read it first, I read Dragonsdawn, and found that the stories about Pern weren’t quite fantasy, but were actually more science fiction. Colonists had left Earth to populate a new planet, and found themselves too far away from Earth to receive help, when they found their new planet had a problem. Thread, a space-born organism, fell to the planet surface and devoured everything living that was in its path. In order to survive, the Pernese colonists bio-engineered the dragons from the planet’s native fire lizards. And so, the Dragonriders of Pern were born!

In the following years, Anne McCaffrey continued to write her wonderful series, along with several others (yes, I enjoyed the Acorna books, as well). Reading about Lessa and her golden Ramoth led me to want to know more about the fascinating Robinton (The Masterharper of Pern was published a few years later) and his Harper Hall. The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall made me want to know more about the talking dolphins (given menta-synth enhancement), which caused me to greet the arrival of The Dolphins of Pern with great joy.

I assure you, I spent several years of my life, wishing I had a bunch of kids of my own, just so I could name them Readis, Menolly, Jaxom, Kitrin, and several other names of that sort. And you’ve never read The White Dragon, if you think my only exposure to the name Ruth comes from the Bible.

Anne McCaffrey has died. From what I read, she was 85 years old. Yes, I was aware that she had handed some of the reins over to her son Todd, as the last few Pern books were either co-written with him, or written entirely by her son. Perhaps this series was the closest to her heart, as I don’t think he’s taken over any of her other series (I could be wrong, just so you know). And though I think Todd McCaffrey was probably steeped in Pernese lore, from childhood on up, I’m afraid his Pern books will never be what his mother’s were.

But where did her books lead me, this woman who searched into the hearts and minds of dragons, and showed us that dragons could be the good guys? I do not read every fantasy book that I come across, even if there’s a dragon on the cover… but knowing there’s a dragon involved will probably catch my attention more quickly than otherwise.

I eventually came across the Newbery Medal winning The Hero and the Crown, which I’ve always hated, by the way. But this one led me to most of her others, which I love (ok, with a few exceptions.

Because of the DragonLady, I fell in love with the dragons of Naomi Novik (His Majesty’s Dragon), Elizabeth Kerner (The Song in the Silence), Bryan Davis (Dragons in Our Midst), Donita K. Paul (DragonSpell, DragonFire), Jane Yolen (Pit Dragon Chronicles), Patricia C. Wrede (Dealing With Dragons), Robin McKinley (Dragonhaven), James A. Owen (Here, There Be Dragons), Tamora Pierce (Kitten in Immortals), and several others I’m sure I’ve forgotten. And yes, I have read Eragon and its sequel, but I lost interest after that.

Any idea how many books that paragraph just encompassed? Yeah, I’ve no idea, either. Let’s just say tons. But the variety involved? You wouldn’t believe what’s there!

From the distant past to the modern day, these dragon stories cover a whole range of dates and countries. Novik’s books cover the Napoleonic Wars, but in a world where dragons exist, making up an aerial corps to join in the fighting. Davis and Paul are both Christian fantasy writers, but one writes in our real world (but where dragons and Merlin exist), while the other writes in a fantastic allegorical world of wizards, major, and minor dragons.

Wrede’s books deal with a hilarious group of kingdoms, where one princess is bored with her life, and goes searching for dragons, rather than stay behind to marry a boring prince. And who wouldn’t want to voluntarily become a dragon’s princess, especially when her dragon is as fun as this one? But Owen’s books are set in the not-so-distant past, in the time of Tolkien, Lewis, and other famous authors. These men were the guardians of the secrets to a fantasy world, the place which inspired many authors and the place that many of them traveled to, when they guarded the Imaginarium Geographica.

And while I remember the great fun I’ve had over the years, just because of reading about dragons, I think back to a movie my brothers and I watched, when we were children. The Flight of Dragons was an animated movie, made in the 80’s, and we watched it on television. My parents must have taped it, because how many times did we watch it? It had humor and seriousness, and we watched as some dragons served the ultimate bad guy, while others fought for good. And one man BECAME a dragon, when a spell went wrong, and he had to find his own way to save this magical realm.

Strangely enough, I didn’t discover, until I was in my twenties, that Peter Dickinson wrote the book that became that movie, and Dickinson actually happens to be the husband of one of my favorite authors, Robin McKinley (who wrote Dragonhaven). So, it all comes full circle, doesn’t it?

But no matter how many worlds are created in the fantasy and science fiction books that are written nowadays, there will never be another world like Pern, characters like Lessa, F’lar, and Robinton, nor dragons like Ramoth, Mnementh, and Ruth. And for that, Anne, we have you to thank.

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